MAY 2009 | VOL. 23 NO.5
A CHANCE FOR LASTING CHANGE
Under the harsh glare of unprecedented media and public attention, April’s G-20 meeting in London produced what many thought would be impossible: a vision of a new world order, forged in the crucible of the current crisis, where the balance of political power between the West and the rest of the world would more closely reflect the balance of economic power (see Milestones, page 6). Perhaps not surprisingly, though, given the brevity of the gathering and the scale and complexity of the issues at hand, the promises were heavy on sentiment and light on substance. Overall, the G-20 meeting produced little more than some warm and fuzzy images and a general sense that things would probably get better.
And they probably will. But as the politicians and policymakers scramble in the dust of the global financial crisis searching for the first green shoots of economic recovery, they might forget their bold promises or postpone their efforts to create a fairer, less volatile world. That would be a tragedy. At this crucial moment in the world’s economic history, the most powerful countries are advocating a more inclusive system, one that considers the needs of the whole spectrum of countries and not just those that have the political and economic muscle to make themselves heard. It is a subtle change, but significant nonetheless because it establishes a global perception that we are all in this together. If one country stumbles, no matter how poor that country is, we all have not only a responsibility to try to help but a vested interest in restoring its stability.
Building a globalized economy that recognizes the part played by those involved at every level is a more realistic prospect than ever. But while the solutions that emerge as a result of the G-20 meeting may include global checks and balances that can prevent the wild excesses of financial wizardry that got us into this current crisis, they cannot ensure economic progress is a smooth, one-way street. Cycles of boom and bust are an intrinsic part of the Western capitalist model—an inevitable side effect and in some ways as necessary as forest fires that sweep away the dead wood and allow the forest to continue to flourish. In the same way that the fire consumes the brush at ground level while leaving the tall trees standing, though, it is often the people at the bottom of the economic heap who are hurt most when markets crash or bubbles burst.
If this new world order is to succeed in creating a more sustainable and fairer global market, it must include some provision for supporting the millions of workers who get cast aside when the economy takes a turn for the worse. It will benefit us all if we ensure there are safety nets to catch not just the high-flying bankers and executives who sometimes take risks far beyond their capabilities or understanding but the people who trust their livelihoods—and their life savings—to those same bankers and executives.
Until next month,